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Greenfield v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

April 3, 2018




         Plaintiff Michelle D. Greenfield seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (Commissioner) denying her application for disability and disability insurance benefits. The Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner wrongfully denied her Social Security Disability benefits and erred by failing to adequately consider the combined effects of her impairments, failing to properly weigh the opinion of a state consultative examiner, and overemphasizing her daily living activities.


         On May 11, 2014, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on November 22, 2013. (R. 14.) Her claim was denied initially on August 14, 2014, and upon reconsideration on February 11, 2015. (Id.) On July 20, 2016, the Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ), along with her boyfriend, Jonny Kline. (Id.) Mark A. Anderson, a vocational expert (VE), also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Id.) On August 25, 2016, the ALJ denied the Plaintiff's application, finding she was not disabled as of her alleged onset date. (R. 14-30.) On June 9, 2017, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-4.)

         On August 3, 2017, the Plaintiff filed this claim in federal court against the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.


         Disability is defined as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To be found disabled, a claimant must demonstrate that her physical or mental limitations prevent her from doing not only her previous work, but also any other kind of gainful employment that exists in the national economy, considering her age, education, and work experience. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         An ALJ conducts a five-step inquiry in deciding whether to grant or deny benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The first step is to determine whether the claimant no longer engages in substantial gainful activity (SGA). Id. In the case at hand, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff has been unable to engage in SGA since her alleged onset date, November 22, 2013. (R. 16.)

         In step two, the ALJ determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment limiting her ability to do basic work activities under § 404.1520(c). In this case, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had multiple severe impairments, including lumbar degenerative disc disease, status post decompression and fusion; cervical degenerative disc disease; history of left leg phlebitis; fibromyalgia; obesity; depression; and anxiety. (Id.) The ALJ found that these impairments caused more than minimal limitations in the Plaintiff's ability to perform the basic mental and physical demands of work. (Id.) The ALJ found that the Plaintiff's other alleged impairments, including hypothyroidism, were not severe impairments. (R. 16-17.)

         Step three requires the ALJ to “consider the medical severity of [the] impairment” to determine whether the impairment “meets or equals one of the [the] listings in appendix 1 . . . .” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment(s), considered singly or in combination with other impairments, rise to this level, there is a presumption of disability “without considering [the claimant's] age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(d). But, if the impairment(s), either singly or in combination, fall short, the ALJ must proceed to step four and examine the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (RFC)-the types of things she can still do physically, despite her limitations-to determine whether she can perform “past relevant work, ” § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), or whether the claimant can “make an adjustment to other work” given the claimant's “age, education, and work experience.” § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listings in Appendix 1, although she had moderate difficulties in social functioning and moderate difficulties regarding concentration, persistence, and pace, and that she had the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) except:

No climbing; no more than occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; no occupations requiring concentrated exposure to hazardous, moving machinery or walking on slick or uneven surfaces; cannot engage in complex or detailed tasks, but remains capable of performing simple, routine tasks throughout the workday; and, no more than superficial relations with coworkers, supervisors, and others.

(R. 19.)

         After analyzing the record, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of her alleged onset date. The ALJ evaluated the objective medical evidence and the Plaintiff's subjective complaints and found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms. (R. 20.) But, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's testimony and prior statements about the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms were “not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record.” (R. 21.) The Plaintiff testified that she experiences pain “everywhere, ” but that it is “greatest in her back, hips, legs, and between her shoulder blades” and that “she experiences numbness and tingling in her arms and hands on a daily basis.” (R. 20.) The Plaintiff stated that she is able to walk “maybe” one block, that she can stand 10 to 15 minutes, and that she can sit for 30 minutes “if that.” (Id.) She also testified that “she becomes stressed out easily due to severe anxiety and depression” and that past panic attacks had been triggered by crowds and stressful jobs. (Id.) The Plaintiff testified that she does laundry ...

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